At age 11, Connor McLaughlin can cross a lot of tasks — like prying open a shark’s mouth — off his bucket list. But in the past month, McLaughlin, a Bunnell Elementary School student, has dealt with a different type of list, created by doctors and dictating which hobbies and activities he can and can’t perform due to his Stage-Three Synovial Sarcoma. He can fish, but can’t bait the hook or handle his catch. His prized pastime of rumbling around on four wheelers and dirt bikes? Out of the question.
The ordeal began June 26, when Connor started experiencing intense abdominal pain and had a high fever. Juliet rushed him to the emergency room. After being transferred to Wolfson Children’s Hospital in Jacksonville, he was diagnosed with cancer; his particular condition affects less than three in every million people, according to sarcomahelp.org. He underwent surgery on June 27 to drain fluid from his chest and biopsy the mass.
“It’s scary, because it all happened overnight,” Juliet McLaughlin said.
The McLaughlins have created a GoFundMe page to help defray mounting medical and related expenses. Juliet, a certified nurse’s assistant, was the main source of income for the family of six before dropping everything to become Connor’s primary caregiver. Her husband Patrick suffers from COPD and asthma and “can barely walk from one side of the house to the other without trouble breathing.” It’s an 80-mile round trip to the hospital, and McLaughlin estimates she and her husband have only spent a total of one week at home over the past month. And the fourth floor of the hospital’s Weaver Tower is no place for a child to spend his summer vacation.
“They have a lot of activity at hospital, which we’re thankful for thankful for,” she said. “When he’s stuck in his room, he’s depressed.”
Before last month, Connor showed no symptoms — no signs of the 12-centimeter tumor burrowed between his right lung and kidney, said McLaughlin. His case is exceptionally rare, she said, because this cancer typically affects the arms or legs.
“The doctors told me it’s normal for a child to be so resilient until the disease presents itself,” McLaughlin said. “You just don’t have any idea. We didn’t miss anything.”
For treatment, Connor will undergo proton therapy and different types of chemotherapy for one year. In six to 10 weeks, doctors will re-scan his body to determine if the tumor can be removed.
Last week, the McLaughlins arranged a home health setup that got Connor out of the hospital. Due to her background in nursing, Juliet would be able to handle Connor’s IV. He was in high spirits, playing with his three sisters and sleeping in his own bed. Then, on Monday, he contracted an infection.
“When we took him right back to the hospital, he cried,” McLaughlin recalled.
As of Wednesday, 23 donations totaling $1,460 of the stated $10,000 goal had been pledged. Bunnell Elementary School gave $500.
Donate at gofundme.com/axyjkk or by searching Bunnell’s area code, 32110.